'I'm completely broken': Woman living in tent among 4,295 homeless Ukrainians in UK

Sarah Corker presents a special report on the housing crisis facing thousands of refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine and arrived in the UK

An increasing number of Ukrainians are being forced to choose between homelessness in the UK or returning to the war as their hosting arrangements end and they can’t find anywhere to rent.

Charities and councils have accused ministers of failing to have any long-term housing plan for the refugees who are here on three year visas, with the Local Government Association (LGA) urging the government to boost funding and provide "urgent solutions".

More than 160,000 Ukrainians have come to the UK since Russia invaded, the majority through the Homes for Ukrainian scheme where they have been hosted by British families for any initial six months.

But as those arrangements have ended, or relationships with the hosts have broken down, thousands have been left with nowhere to live.

Official figures show that 4,295 Ukrainian households have presented themselves to councils as homeless – a 40% increase since just November 2022.

Almost seven in ten of the overall total households have dependent children (69%). The true numbers could be much higher, as it’s not mandatory for local authorities to report these numbers.

Anfisa Vlasova, 41, and her beloved four dogs, escaped from the eastern city of Kharkiv as it was being shelled last year. She lost everything in the war and for a short time found ‘peace’ with a host family in Oxfordshire.

Unfortunately, when that six-month sponsorship ended, and a second hosting arrangement with a separate household broke down, she found herself homeless in Berkshire.

“I am completely broken from inside. I feel horrible and hopeless and I am struggling because I don’t know what else I can do to find accommodation,” she said while pointing out the small blue tent next to a church where she will be sleeping tonight.

“In the winter, it is extremely cold and wet. We are on the street.”

'I am completely broken inside, I feel hopeless': Homeless Ukrainian Anfisa on her life in the UK

Her Yorkshire terriers – Nora, Betty, Daisy and Teddy - are all she has and provide her with vital emotional support and company, but finding anywhere suitable for all of them live is proving to be a "nightmare".

With no guarantor and limited credit history in the UK, Ms Vlasova says she has "no chance to go for private rent".

“It’s like a vicious circle and I can’t find way out. I keep searching and searching to find somewhere to live. My main message is I am not alone - thousands of Ukrainians are facing these problems - so the government needs to get involved and change their policy,” she told ITV News.

For a short time Ms Vlasova had been staying in a B&B in Bracknell, but her search for somewhere suitable for her and her pets to rent long term has had hit another dead-end.

She’s now turned to the council in Bracknell and a local church for help, but for another night she’ll be sleeping rough.

Councillor James Jamieson, Chairman of the LGA, has warned that councils are at the sharp end of the rise in the number of people presenting as homeless.

He told ITV News that "we are concerned there is no (government) funding beyond the first year for councils and funding for arrivals in 2023 has halved".

Host of Ukrainian family Kate McCarthy Booth on how refugees are becoming homeless

As the war shows no sign of ending, more refugees arrive every day.

Some 2,000 miles away in Ukraine people are still trying to escape misery of this war as entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble.

Oleg and Natalia Belopolets fled the bombing in Mariupol and are now in a town called Cherkasy, around two hours from Kyiv.

“We left Mariupol as it was burning in March. All we had was three suitcases and a backpack, that was it. Our home was destroyed,” Mr Belopolets said.

The couple want to join Natalia’s sister in Great Yarmouth. They’ve got a sponsor and home lined up but are among an estimated 10,000 Ukrainians waiting months for the Home Office to make a decision on their visa application.

“We don’t want to stay in the UK forever, that’s out of the question. We’d rather go home (to Mariupol) than to any other country. But right now we can’t, so going to the UK for a short time is the best option.”

“We are grateful already for how much you are helping our army. The fact that we can’t seem to get a visa, well, that rankles a bit, but our opinion of Britain is not affected by that,” Mr Belopolets said.

For now, they remain stuck in a grim limbo. The Home Office said it’s processing visas as quickly as possible, but robust checks are needed.

For those who are in the UK, the government is giving councils extra resources to deal with these issues and hosts increased ‘thank you’ payments.

Oleg and Natalia Belopolets were forced out of their home town of Mariupol by Russian bombardment. Credit: ITV News

In a statement a government spokesperson said that "in all cases local authorities have a legal duty to ensure no families are left without a roof over their heads".

“For those on the Homes for Ukraine scheme we are providing councils with per person funding, as well as £150 million to support guests into their own homes and £500 million to find housing.”

Facts on Ukrainians living in the UK since Russia invaded

A huge 154,500 Ukrainians arrived in the UK in 2022 after being granted visas, according to the latest Home Office figures.

Two visa routes were set up after war broke out in February, one for people with family in Great Britain and another for those with UK sponsors.

Homes for Ukraine, as the sponsorship scheme was called, saw 110,300 Ukrainian people arrive to live in spare bedrooms and vacant homes all around the UK.

There were 44,200 arrivals through the family scheme.

Females made up the vast majority (67%) of granted visas, with many adult men staying in Ukraine to fight.

Some 4,295 Ukrainian households have been at risk of or experienced homelessness in England between March 2022 and January 2023, the British Red Cross said, of these, 2,985 were households with children.

Around 81% of Homes for Ukraine hosts reported challenges helping their guests look for private rented accommodation when surveyed in November 2022.

And many sponsors cannot afford to continue hosting, especially with added cost-of-living pressures, with 18% saying rising prices are "very much" impacting their ability to help.

The Local Government Association said it wants to work with ministers to "support existing hosts who have opened up their homes and their lives to Ukrainians and how to encourage new hosts to step forward so families can quickly move on if arrangements come to an end".

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...